A new study reports that while health and safety leaders feel supported by top management, executives may not fully understand the value of keeping workers safe.

When it comes to keeping your employees safe, there’s little doubt in your mind that your health and safety efforts play a pivotal role. From mitigating common hazards to guarding against other potential risks, your goal is to create a culture of EHS safety that protects workers and your company’s bottom line.

But does your top management team fully understand the value of your efforts to keep workers safe? According to a new report from EHS Today, they may not.

The publication’s annual 2018 National Safety Survey—which surveyed nearly 900 safety leaders from around the world—revealed that a whopping 80% of respondents reported that top management does support their efforts, which is fantastic. However, many respondents also indicated that they believe executives don’t fully understand the value of keeping workers safe.

Of course, this presents a bit of a problem. Executive buy-in and understanding is critical to the success of your health and safety efforts. Why? Because when the folks at the top are on-board and engaged, that credibility and importance trickles down throughout the rest of the ranks.

So, what’s causing the disconnect? And how can health and safety leaders help bridge the divide? Let’s explore.

The Executive Disconnect

EHS Today’s survey went beyond gathering quantitative data, asking respondents to also share qualitative insights on the barriers they face when it comes to executives understanding safety culture. Some of those challenges include:

One-size-fits-all assumptions: Building a culture of safety requires tailored solutions. We know that. You know that. But executives likely don’t. As one respondent shared:

"Our corporate culture assumes one-size-fits-all when it comes to worker safety and facility safety requirements. Different facilities are at different places in their safety journey so you [can’t] apply the same logic to all."

Optics: You understand the intricacies of incident reports and what the numbers really mean in terms of your program performance. But your management team doesn’t have that insight. One respondent shared the following example of this in action:

"Doctors are prescribing drugs to employees after a workplace incident when not needed, which then requires documentation on the OSHA log. This makes your safety program look much worse than it really should, which in turn requires you to try to explain why there are so many OSHA recordables to management. Then management ends up making knee-jerk decisions to drive down the number of minor injuries vs focusing on the risk for the more severe ones that haven't happened yet."

Clarity as it relates to the business: It’s no secret that top management and company leaders are often focused on the overall success of the business. They want any internal program or effort to provide tangible business value. You could be falling down on making the connection clear, as one respondent points out:

"For EHS professionals, the lack of emotional intelligence (EQ) skills and the disconnect of EHS value integrating/supporting business goals [is a major challenge]."

The Keys to Unlocking Understanding & Engagement

According to EHS Today, data could be the silver bullet for proving how effective a safety program can be to a company’s culture and bottom line. The survey revealed that an increasing number of EHS professionals (58%) are using technology to track, analyze, manage, and report on data. And some respondents shared that they plan to make all data collected visible to management teams in hopes of fostering more understanding and support.

We’re delighted to see that an increasing number of health and safety leaders are leveraging the latest tools and technologies to manage their initiatives and uncover helpful data insights. However, we’d caution against providing company leaders with an endless stream of data. Why? Because materiality matters.

By developing a stakeholder engagement strategy, you can take steps to ensure that you’re connecting the dots to business value, which is what your executives likely care about most. This will also help you address assumptions and optical challenges by being more tactical in how you educate your leadership team.

Some health and safety leaders are on the right track. As one respondent shared:

"[I plan to] expand the data mining to begin tracking leading indicators and determine key programs on which to focus messaging and informational empowerment efforts.”

Read: Smart Stakeholder Engagement: 6 Tips for EHS & Sustainability Managers

Get Your Leadership Team Excited About Workplace Safety

There’s no shortage of challenges in communicating the value of EHS. And it’s important to note that workplace safety doesn’t solely rest on the shoulders of you or the employees who are in the trenches every day. All employees need to know what EHS is, why it’s important, and how they can contribute—including leadership.

Leverage stakeholder engagement best practices to educate, inform, and engage your leadership team using the right data and messaging. This will not only show your commitment to your role as a safety champion, but also that you’re taking steps to maximize business value—value that your leadership team will want to help preserve for the long-term.

We’re here to support your value proposition, too. Learn how Antea Group can provide a range of EHS consulting services to support your initiatives on the ground and in front of executives.

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